May Ideas for the Domestic Church

How can we “be the Church” at home during May? Well, let’s start with a look at those special observances that are uniquely American — and that are always celebrated in May.

The National Day of Prayer is observed every year on the First Thursday in May. Why do American Christians have a “National Day of Prayer?”

Samuel West wrote “Unlimited submission and obedience is due to none but God alone … To suppose that he has given a set of [people] power to require obedience to that which is unreasonable, cruel and unjust is robbing the Deity of his justice and goodness…”

The National Day of Prayer exists to remind us to remind us to pray for our nation — that this land we love will be a place of justice for all people. On this day, we are encouraged to set aside time to pray for our nation’s spiritual and moral reawakening, for the leaders of our country state, county and city (by name), for those throughout the world who are undergoing persecution, for local and national churches and church-related organizations, for greater Christian impact in mass media and cultural or social services, and for the family. If these concerns do not figure regularly in our prayer lives, today serves as a good reminder to us of their importance.

How to do this at home? You could dig out the little American Flag you have in your dining room hutch, set it in a small centerpiece with flowers, and place it on your dinner table together with a small candle. After dinner, light the candle and pray.

If you have small children, be sure to explain to them why we’re doing this as a family. If you have older teens, you might give them the assignment of finding out the names of our elected leaders: the president, Pennsylvania’s U.S. senators and congressional representatives, our state’s governor, State Senator and State Representative, local county officials, your mayor and city officials, judges, court officials, public and private school authorities. (For that matter, it might be a good discipline for you to do this yourself. A few phone calls is all it would take. Even easier: just go on the internet and Google it.) Be sure to remember teachers, school principals and local officials such as code enforcement officers.

If you missed the Lenten set of ideas for The Domestic Church, you may not know that for centuries the fourth Sunday in Lent has been known as Mothering Sunday in the Church. However, most Americans celebrate Mother’s Day on the second Sunday in May. Do you know why?

Ms. Anna Reeves Jarvis — and Christianity’s Mothering Sunday — stand behind America’s Mother’s Day. Anna was never married. She was never a mother. Yet, she devoted her entire life’s work to the development and national acceptance of Mother’s Day as a national holiday. While her mother was still alive, Ms. Jarvis observed the traditional Christian Mothering Sunday in the traditional Christian way: by taking her mother a bunch of flowers, a small cake, a heart-felt letter of love and a special visit. Grief over the death of her mother inspired Ms. Jarvis to call attention to adult children’s neglect of their parents. Mother’s Day (and later, Father’s Day, thanks to the efforts of Mrs. John Dowd) was intended as a day when adult children were to show appreciation to our aging parents. The original celebrations focused on the parents of adult children — and their need to be cared for in old age or illness, and the adult child’s desire to show appreciation for the parent’s own years of caring. The first Mother’s Day was celebrated in Ms. Jarvis’s little country church in her native West Virginia on the second Sunday of May in 1908. As a result of her crusade, West Virginia’s governor, William Glassman, declared Mother’s Day a state holiday in 1910. By 1913, the U.S. Congress set aside Mother’s Day as a national holiday in a joint resolution. All of this was the result of one woman’s perseverance and dedication.

This Mother’s Day, why not write a letter of appreciation to your own mother, go to church with her (or, if she lives too far away, provide altar flowers in her honor to the church where she goes to worship — call that congregation and ask the church secretary how to do this), and bake a cake for her? In this way, you might find yourself less vulnerable to the guilt that is brokered by the people who want you to buy their products as a way to prove to your mother that you really love her. And you might find yourself celebrating Mother’s Day more as the Christians (and Ms. Jarvis) intended Mothering Sunday to be.

A thought for next year: A lot of mothers are really uncomfortable about Mother’s Day because it is mandatory. (Pastor Mandy is among them.) If your mother is like this, why not send her a gift or letter on your own birthday. She thinks about you that day; in fact, it probably means more to her than to you. On that day, you could tell her how glad you are she is your mother — without sending her guilt-level through the roof, as happens for many mothers on Mother’s Day. (This doesn’t mean “don’t give her a Mother’s Day card this year” — then your guilt-level will go through the roof.)

Another thought for next year: Why not celebrate the real Mothering Sunday on the Fourth Sunday in Lent?

Memorial Day is observed on the last Monday in May. For many of us, this day marks the long-weekend-kick-off to summer. However, observance of Memorial Day, began as a way to remember those who died in the Civil War, fighting to end slavery. Today Memorial Day is set-aside to remember all who have died fighting in America’s wars. On Memorial Day, we are reminded that we must never forget that standing up for what is right always has a price attached. Even though Memorial Day is not one of the “Holy Days” of the Christian Church Year, take time today to remember that standing up for what is right always has a price attached to it. Just ask the martyrs. They know. Talk with your children about what citizenship means. Talk with them about duty and cowardice. Tell them the stories of the members of your family who served in America’s military. And fly your flags.

Three important festivals of the Church Year usually take place in May. Watch the calendar in the Echos for the actual dates of each one this year.

1) The first of these is The Ascension of our Lord, which is always the Thursday before the Seventh Sunday of Easter.

In addition to the worship service at Holy Trinity you might like to buy some helium-filled balloons and use them as a decoration for your living room or on your kitchen table. With your family, talk about what it means that Jesus ascended into Heaven 40 days after the Resurrection. (Hint: It marks the completeness of God’s Easter triumph and it prepares us for the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost — so that the Resurrected Christ would be present with us wherever we are.)

2) Celebrate Pentecost! Throughout the Middle Ages, and beyond, in both Roman Catholic and Protestant countries, Pentecost and the week following it were holy days, holidays, and special days. It has been a time to focus on the nearness of God’s Holy Spirit. Sometimes people would go to the top of a mountain (such as Hawk Mountain?) to pray.

The Middle Ages had a strange and delightful way of celebrating the religious meaning of Pentecost. In the ceiling of the church there would be a large aperture called “the Holy Ghost Hole.” And on Pentecost, to the sound of trumpets or some other windy noise, down the hole would be lowered a great disk, often painted blue with golden rays and with a white dove, symbol of the Holy Spirit, painted on it. In some places, pigeons or doves would be released. Elsewhere, roses were dropped. A few churches (with new pastors straight out of seminary, I think) tried dropping burning straw. This turned out to be not such a good idea as, unlike the flames in Acts, the flames did not hover over the faithful but fell right onto them, catching their clothes on fire.

Throughout much of Europe, Pentecost (and the week following it) became times of family picnics. For your picnic, you could take along special treats to help you remember the gift of the Holy Spirit: Rock Cornish Game Hens (which are just as delicious cold as hot), loaves of bread baked in the shape of doves or a cake baked in a dove-shaped cake pan. You could also make 12 Fruit Salad to help us remember the gifts of God’s Holy Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5. (Look it up.) 12 Fruit Salad is made by combining any 12 fruits and sprinkling with some sugar and a little lemon juice.

3) The Church’s celebration of the Holy Trinity has no homey little folk traditions associated with it. That’s probably because so much blood has been shed over the issue of orthodoxy that ordinary people have left this Holy Day completely to the theologians. At my house, I’m thinking about serving Three Bean Salad with dinner (three beans in one salad; three persons in One Godhead … get it?) but that’s all I intend. (Unless you count the theological discussion we’re sure to have at our dinner table if I actually serve that salad because many of the ancient heresies began with some theologian trying to explain the inexplicable — but I digress).

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